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Owen vs Goodwin: Puritan controversy at Protestant Truth Society conference

October 2021 | by Evangelical Times

Benedict Bird
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Is Jesus Christ the Redeemer of sinners, or merely a facilitator of salvation? This vital question lay at the heart of July’s Protestant Truth Society Study Day, held at Kensit Evangelical Church, Finchley.

The speaker was Benedict Bird, ThM, and the subtitle was ‘John Owen vs John Goodwin and the Doctrine of Perseverance’.

Goodwin’s main work, Redemption Redeemed, was summarised, and the fundamental differences between his position and Owen’s (who had replied via his work The Doctrine of the Saint’s Preservation) were explored.

Particular scriptural passages were examined. Does Romans 8:28-30 provide, as William Perkins (and others) taught, a ‘golden chain’, or is it a ‘golden obstacle course’? Do Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-27 demonstrate the reality of apostasy, or do they encourage perseverance? Does John 4:14 teach that we are preserved despite sin, or that we are preserved from sin?

It was in the two final passages that the constraints of Goodwin’s position became most evident. To be consistent with his theology, he must understand 1 John 2:19 to teach that John wrote against those who ‘went out from us’ because they were using their former church membership of his congregation to justify their authority to teach heresy: a novel interpretation, to say the least.

In John 10:28-29, Goodwin is constrained to argue that God rewards people for persevering, and not, as Owen argues, that our Lord is promising that no believer will come short of eternal life.

Goodwin claimed to be logical and rational in his position, but in reality he was motivated by antipathy towards the Presbyterians who had put him out of his church for heresy.

The church should be thankful to God that John Owen was able to explain John Goodwin to his contemporaries. We were thankful that we had Benedict Bird to explain John Owen to us!

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